There was a camel on the side of the road in Alabama.
It is the Bible Belt after all.
Where else are you going to find a camel loitering about?
I didn’t even see it.
I know, right? Writers are supposed to be observant creatures, and I missed seeing the one-hump beast as I drove right by it.
Sure enough. It was Konnie who called out: There’s a camel!
Or Clarence. He’s not particular about what you call him as long as you call him to dinner.
He’s the third camel that David’s daddy has owned.
The first one somebody shot dead. The law investigated it but they told David’s daddy that somebody probably just thought that camel was a horse. David wasn’t buying that. The next time some hooligans came poking around the creature compound, they chased ‘em off with guns of their own.
The next camel dropped dead all on its own. Nobody was really sure of the cause.
Rufus, however, appeared to be in good health when we visited.
Yes. As soon as Konnie shouted out that there was a camel in Alabama, don’t you know I did a U-turn as soon as I legally could and drove right back to Old Dark Road to check out the camel for myself.
“What are you doing?” Konnie asked, when I turned up the driveway of the home behind which Rufus lives. “You aren’t going up there, are you?”
I just looked at her and rolled my eyes. “What do you think? C’mon. This is YOUR momma.”
The garage was empty but I got out of the car anyway and went and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered.
Konnie waited in the car, fearing, I suppose, that somebody might have a gun pointed at me. It wasn’t but a minute later that David pulled up in his white truck, chrome polished like Miss Daisy’s silver.
“That your camel?” I asked nodding toward Rufus.
“Nah, it’s daddy’s,” he said, stepping out of his truck. Konnie got out of the car as soon as she saw he wasn’t carrying a sawed-off shotgun.
David is darling. I want to take him home to Miz Shelby. He has the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen on a fella and the sweetest lazy smile. He’s used to strangers stopping to stare at Rufus.
“Sometimes they pull off right on the road down there,” he said, pointing to the eastbound 280.
Guess they don’t have writers in their families. You can’t get a good story as a gawker. You have to live with your feet in the mud. Or hay. Or whatever it is in the muck that camels make.
How come you to have a camel? I asked.
“Daddy likes exotics,” David explained. Yep. There are other creatures. Used to be some monkeys. The playground for them is still there but the monkeys are gone now. The turtles big as truck tires sun themselves in the enclosure just a camel spit from Rufus. I didn’t want to walk over there in my flip-flops to get a photo of them for you. Sorry. You can disregard what I said about writers living with feet in the mud.
I wasn’t exactly afraid of him. David had already opened his mouth and showed us that camels don’t have top teeth.
If Konnie had been quicker with the iPhone you’d have a shot of that. But imagine if you were looking at your granny take her choppers out. It’s the same sort of look.
Rufus only has his bottom chompers.
David said when he was in high school all anyone wanted to do was go out to his place and hang with his daddy’s exotics. That was annoying to David as a high schooler because as he noted, “I was around them all the time. Why would I want to hang out with them some more?”
That’s what I was thinking.
Rufus, of course, was making eyes at Konnie.
“Does your daddy collect snakes, too?” I asked David.
He laughed. “No, ma’am,” he said, shaking his head. “Daddy don’t like snakes.”
Then David told us a story about when he and a friend decided to play a trick on his daddy. They pretended to have brought a snake into the house and David’s daddy lit out at those boys, yelling at them to get that dadgum thing outta there right now. He was going to kill it. Only there wasn’t really a snake at all. The boys went belly over, laughing so hard. David can’t help himself. Just the memory of his exotics-loving daddy a’feared of a little bitty snake makes him laugh.
Which just goes to show that a harmless garden snake can be considered dangerous if you look at it the wrong way.
As we pulled off, Konnie and I sang the old camp song, “Alice the camel has five humps, Alice the camel has four humps, Alice the camel has three humps, Alice the camel has two humps, Alice the came has one hump, Alice the camel has no humps…Because Alice is a horse.”
Except in Alabama.
Rufus really is a camel.